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Posts tagged with: due diligence checklist

A PASSION FOR (REAL ESTATE) BUSINESS

Lawyers are like most other business professionals. We want your business and we want your referrals – we just don’t always know the best way to ask for either.

 

Take me for example. I’ve been handling commercial real estate transactions and business deals for nearly 40 years. I’ve loved (almost) every day of it, and I look forward to many more (knock on wood). My clients appreciate my insights and value the guidance I provide. Other attorneys respect what I do, and brokers and CPAs like working with me because I strive for practical solutions to efficiently and effectively get the job done. I pay close attention to learn my clients’ business objectives, then work diligently and negotiate hard to get my clients what they expect – when they expect it. That’s what lawyers do. Or at least what all lawyers should do. For any client hiring a lawyer, what else is there?  Achieving client objectives and getting the deal closed on time is why lawyers exist. Deals fail, for sure, but we can never be the reason they fail. Deals that fail are a waste of everyone’s time and money. Getting the deal done, if it can be done, is our value proposition.

 

Deals are my lifeblood – my passion. They’re why I wake up every morning and get out of bed. I love this stuff. I can’t explain exactly why that is – it just is.  Why do musicians practice their instruments and play? Why do scratch golfers golf? Why do competitive skiers ski?  It’s our passion. We don’t know exactly why – it comes from within. And we always need more.

 

Commercial real estate deals always come first for me, but in every commercial real estate project is a business. They go hand in hand. My preference for a good real estate deal over a good business deal is a matter of only slight degree. There’s not really a number one and a number two. It’s more like #1 and #1A.

 

So what’s the problem?

 

The problem is, a lot of people don’t know I’m available to represent them. I write books and articles on commercial real estate. I give seminars on how to structure and close business and real estate transactions. I publish a commercial real estate and business blog.  People think I’m busy, or that I only handle huge deals. The truth is, I am busy – but never too busy to handle another deal, large or small. In the words of the late, great Lucille Ball: “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.” We all loved Lucy!

 

The most shocking question I get from prospective clients is: “Would you (I) be willing to handle my (their) next business or commercial real estate deal?”  Are they kidding? My answer is always an emphatic “yes”! It’s my passion. It’s my love.  It’s what I live for.

 

To be sure, I’m a business professional, and I charge for what I do, but if you have a commercial real estate deal or business deal, and need representation, I’m in. Never be shy about calling me. We’ll work out the economics. The range of deals I handle is extraordinarily diverse. For a taste, look at my blog Harp-OnThis.com, or check out my latest book, Illinois Commercial Real Estate on Amazon.com or in your local public library. I love this stuff. I need this stuff. Of course I want to represent you. When can we get started?

 

So back to my initial point:  I do want your business and your business referrals. Like many other business professionals, I just don’t know the best way to go about asking for it. What do you suggest?

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Outside Investors and the Real Estate PPM – A Critical Step

RSP_LogoHD (3)It is not uncommon for commercial real estate investors to pool their funds for real estate investments. To obtain project financing, equity requirements remain relatively high. Loan to value ratios are in the 60% to 70% range in many circumstances. Even a modestly priced commercial project with a $5,000,000 price tag may require equity in the range of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. The greater the price tag, the higher the equity requirement. A Real Estate PPM is an important tool when raising funds from outside investors for a real estate project.

TYPICAL INVESTMENT STRUCTURE

Private real estate investments are typically structured through a manager-managed limited liability company (LLC), with the project promoter or its affiliate named as the manager. Oftentimes, the business terms of the transaction will include a cumulative preferred return to equity investors, an attractive internal rate of return to equity investors until all capital is returned, and a waterfall that provides for a disproportionate percentage of distributable cash to be used toward repayment of the equity investment until it is repaid in full, followed by a permanent allocation of profits and losses based on percentage of ownership.

OUTSIDE INVESTORS – PROS AND CONS

The advantage to the promoter in raising capital from outside investors is that it places the promoter in a position to acquire and control more and larger real estate projects. A disadvantage to promoters is that they must give up a meaningful piece of project ownership and anticipated profits in return for using other people’s money.

 An advantage to outside investors is that they may realize high investment returns and certain tax advantages by participating in a real estate investment. A disadvantage is that they typically have little direct control over the project and must rely upon the knowledge, skill and efforts of the promoter to make money. Of course, if the outside investors don’t possess the knowledge and skill themselves, relying on an experienced real estate promoter may be their best bet for taking advantage of the opportunities real estate investment has to offer.

DUE DILIGENCE AND THE REAL ESTATE PPM

Whether investing in a stabilized real estate project, a project to be newly constructed, or a value-add project requiring redevelopment, renovation, or adaptive reuse, careful evaluation of the benefits and risks always require knowledgeable investigation using due diligence.

A good place for an outside investor to begin is by closely reading the investment PPM (private placement memorandum) which an outside investor should expect to receive from the promoter before making an investment. A well drafted Real Estate PPM will describe the project, the relevant history and experience of the promoter, sources of funds, uses of funds, material terms of the investment, including transfer restrictions, the exit strategy, and the identifiable risks of the investment and the project.

The Real Estate PPM, however, is only the beginning. A conscientious investor needs to go beyond the statements in the PPM to gain an understanding of the underlying real estate project itself, not unlike a conscientious lender would – but even more so, since the interest of an equity investor is subordinate to the interest of any secured lenders. If the prospective investor does not have the direct knowledge and expertise to evaluate and understand the underlying real estate project, it is highly advisable for the prospective investor to hire an advisor, attorney or consultant who has the skill-set to conduct the evaluation.

PPM – A DEFENSE DOCUMENT

Promoters sometimes resist preparing a fully developed PPM because they believe (naively) that it is an unnecessary burden and needless expense. Realistically, however, it is essential and its cost is a cost of raising money from outside investors.

Some promoters discount the value of a carefully prepared PPM because they think of it as a marketing brochure. With that belief, they conclude that their investors don’t need an expensive marketing brochure prepared by a lawyer. In truth, a PPM is not a marketing brochure. It is a critical defense document. Like insurance, it is only a waste of money if you never need it. Even the most well thought-out real estate project may not turn out as planned, or may not result in the impressive profits anticipated at the outset. In that case, believe it or not, there is a meaningful risk that the investors will sue – especially if they end up losing money.

Anytime a person is making a passive investment with the expectation that profits will be derived solely through the efforts of another, the investment is, by definition, an investment contract and, by extension, a security.  The party offering the security is required by law to make a whole host of disclosures to make sure the investor is fully informed of all material facts and risks. Failure to adequately describe the investment and disclose known and foreseeable risks exposes the promoter to serious potential liability under applicable securities laws and regulations.

When the investors sue, it will be for on a variety of theories, including breach of contract, fraud in the inducement, common law fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and violation of applicable securities laws. The investors will allege that the promoter made all kinds of promises and told the investor all kinds of things regarding the project and the investment, which the promoter knew, or should have known, were false.  The investor will also claim the promoter concealed or failed to disclose facts and risks known to the promoter which, if disclosed, would have caused the investors to decline making the investment. Since securities laws provide investment rescission rights and impose near strict liability on a broad range of promoters and persons controlling the investment, the promoter and its principal advocates can be exposed to significant personal liability absent an effective and reliable defense.

A well-crafted PPM can be highly effective in providing a strong defense by spelling out, in writing, all the material details and assumptions of the project and the investment, and all known and foreseeable risks inherent in the project and the investment. It will also limit the right of the investors to rely upon only the matters expressed in the PPM, and will clarify the distinction between statements of fact, and forward looking projections which constitute matters of opinion or belief which cannot reasonably be relied upon. As such, the Real Estate PPM is a powerful defense tool that no real estate promoter seeking investment from outsiders should go without. If things go poorly, it will be the firewall between the investors’ loss and the personal liability of the promoter.

INVESTOR RELIANCE ON PPM

From the investors’ perspective, the PPM is a valuable tool as well. If meticulously crafted, it will disclose the material details of the project and the investment, and will point out risks the investor should consider, even if they are risks the investor is willing to accept.   The investor will have the right to rely upon the facts and details set forth in the PPM unless expressly qualified or limited. If the PPM misstates the facts or omits to disclose known or knowable risks, the PPM can serve as a powerful piece of evidence in a claim against the promoter. It is precisely this evidentiary risk that impels promoters to dot the i’s and cross the t’s to make sure the PPM is complete and accurate – which makes it a valuable source of information for the prospective investor.

PROJECT DUE DILIGENCE BY INVESTOR

Even with the inclusion of necessary facts and disclosures in the Real Estate PPM, a detailed analysis and discussion of certain real estate fundamentals underlying the project may not fall within the purview of the PPM. If the disclosed risks are carefully crafted with broad language, in may be up to the prospective investor, in the exercise of due diligence, to evaluate the underlying project to confirm the suitability of the property for its envisioned use.

Due diligence by the investor is always appropriate. If the prospective investor does not have the knowledge on its own to understand real estate fundamentals, it is incumbent upon the investor to engage a real estate professional who possesses the necessary knowledge.  Regardless of whether a failure to adequately disclose and address gaps in the underlying project fundamentals is sufficient to expose the promoter to liability, imposing liability on the promoter is not the object of the investment. The object of the investment is to put the investor’s money to work in a profitable venture that will yield a favorable return – not a lawsuit.

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Whether raising money from outside investors, or considering an investment in a real estate project as a passive outside investor, a well-crafted Real Estate PPM is a vital component and critical step. Ignore it at your own peril.

Thanks for listening,

Kymn

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Due Diligence Basics – Commercial Real Estate

Due diligence is essential when investing in, developing or financing commercial real estate. You must know the right questions to ask, and where to find the answers. The object is not simply to get to closing, but to assure that the project will function as intended after closing.

R. Kymn Harp Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

R. Kymn Harp
Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

Due diligence is a standard of conduct. It is the amount of diligent inquiry due under the circumstances of your particular transaction. It requires that you determine, confirm and answer “yes” to every question required to be answered in the affirmative, and that you determine, confirm and answer “no” to every question required to be answered in the negative, for your project to proceed to closing and function as intended after closing.

 

In commercial real estate transactions, there are two layers of due diligence:

  1. Transaction due diligence; and
  2. Property due diligence.

 

TRANSACTION DUE DILIGENCE

In any commercial transaction, transaction due diligence requires that we ask and know the answers to fundamental questions in seven particular areas of concern. These areas of concern include the six elements of every story-line, plus authority of the parties to act.  Transaction due diligence requires that you determine, confirm and know the answers to each of the following:

  1.  Who are the parties to the transaction?

a.  Seller

b. Buyer

c. Lender

d. Tenants

e. Other

2. What property is included?

a. Real estate

b. Personal property

c. Franchise agreements or rights

d. Other

3. Where is the property located?

4. Why is the property being acquired? – Intended use?

5. When must it Close? And other critical dates?

a. Due diligence period

b. Title delivery deadline

c. Survey delivery deadline

d. Financing deadlines

e. Section 1031 identification period and replacement property acquisition deadlines

f. Other critical dates

6. How will the transaction be structured?

a. Sale

b. Lease

c. Section 1031 exchange

d. Seller financing

e. Other transaction structure issues

7. By what authority are the parties acting?

a. Board approval, if necessary

b. Shareholder approval, if necessary

c. Governmental approvals, if necessary

d. Manager authority under LLC Operating Agreement

e. LLC member consent, if necessary

f. Landlord consent, if necessary

g. Lender consent, if necessary

h. Any other required consents or approvals or other sources of authority

When the “what” of Transaction Due Diligence is commercial or industrial real estate, the next step is to conduct an investigation of the property using all appropriate due diligence. Property due diligence is describes below.

PROPERTY DUE DILIGENCE

Property due diligence has four additional areas of concern. As discussed below, the four major areas of concern for property due diligence are market demand, access, use and finances. All of the questions concerning the property that need to be asked and answered when investing in, developing or financing commercial or industrial real estate fall within one or more of these four major areas of concern.

 

Property due diligence requires that you determine, confirm and know the answers to each of the following:

 

 1. Market Demand

a. How will the property be used?

b. Who are the intended users?

c. Is there a need – and more importantly, will there be a need at the time the project is completed?

2. Access

a. How will users get to the property?

b. Are there adequate traffic controls, stoplights, stop signs, etc.?

c. Adequate drives for customers and deliveries?

d. Sufficient roadway stacking room at nearby intersections?

e. Lawful curb-cuts?

f. Full access vs. right-turn only?

g. Adequate parking for business needs (which may be more than zoning requirements)?

h. ADA compliant/handicap accessible?

i. Any other access requirements or impediments?

3. Use

a. Any private land use controls/restrictions on use?

b. Proper zoning?

c. Sufficient parking as required by zoning?

d. Sufficient occupancy capacity?

e. Adequate utility service?

f. If buyer is acquiring the property for its own use, are there any existing tenants or users that must be terminated or removed? Can they be lawfully  removed?

g. Environmental issues? (which may be as much a finance issue as a use issue)

h. Other use requirements or issues?

4. Finances

a. Financing

i.   Appraised value?

ii.  Loan to value – equity requirement?

iii. Terms of financing?

iv.  Lender required due diligence expenses?

v.  Lease subordination required?

x. Subordination Non-Disturbance and Attornment (SNDA) Agreements?

y. Tenant Estoppel Certificates?

vi.  Other lender requirements?

b. Financial Metrics

i.  Real estate taxes and special assessments?

ii. Rehab/repair costs?

iii. User fees and recapture costs?

iv.  Environmental remediation costs?

v.   Leases?

1.  Lease income?

2. Security deposits?

3. Rental abatement?

4. CAM and operating expense reconciliations?

5. Landlord obligations to Tenants for build-out, etc.?

vi.  Other financial benefits and burdens affecting the property?

RESOURCES

Many of the white papers and posts on this blog delve more deeply into due diligence issues and concerns.   You may find particularly useful my post Due Diligence Checklists: for Commercial Real Estate Transactions.

Should you need assistance, we have a number of attorneys at Robbins Salomon & Patt, Ltd. who are experienced commercial real estate practitioners and can help. Do not hesitate to reach out to us. We are always looking for new clients with interesting or challenging projects.

Enjoy!

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NEW: ALTA Land Title Survey Standards

NEW ALTA LAND TITLE SURVEY STANDARDS effective February 23, 2016.

UPDATE:  Effective February 23, 2016, new minimum standard detail requirements for ALTA Land Title Surveys went into effect, replacing the previously existing 2011 Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/ACSM Land Title Surveys.

 

Note that the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) is the legal successor organization to the American Congress of Surveying and Mapping (ACSM). Accordingly, the new survey standards will be cited as the “2016 Minimum Standard Detail requirements for ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys.

 

Several substantive changes have been made in the updated 2016 land title survey standards. A comparison of the 2016 standards to the previous 2011 standards is highlighted on the Red-lined version (click here) showing the changes made. Among the notable changes are changes to the Table A list of Optional Survey Responsibilities and Specifications. The modifications to Table A are largely a result of the 2016 Land Title Survey standards making certain requirements mandatory instead of optional. Additional changes involve reassigned responsibilities (or at least a clarification of responsibilities) for obtaining certain information for use by surveyors in preparing a 2016 ALTA/NSPS Land Title Survey.

 

RSP_LogoHD (3)Update Purchase Agreements to Require Surveys compliant with NEW 2016 ALTA Land Title Survey Standards

 

Especially for commercial or industrial real estate purchase agreements (and financing commitments) requiring ALTA Surveys  prepared after February 23, 2016, be sure to contractually require that they be prepared in accordance the the 2016 Minimum Standard Detail requirements for ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys.  Be sure, also, to modify your existing contracts as they pertain to the Table A Optional Survey Responsibilities and Specifications to address the new Table A instead of the version associated with the former 2011 standards.

 

Purchasers should check with their lenders, and with the title insurance company engaged to insure title, to be certain everyone is on the same page, and that all parties understand their respective responsibilities for obtaining documents and information necessary for use by the Surveyor. Lenders and their counsel should do likewise.

 

2016 should be an interesting year for commercial real estate. Best of luck for a prosperous year!

 

Thanks,

Kymn

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Keys to Closing A Commercial Real Estate Transaction

Commercial Real Estate Closings

Anyone who thinks closing a commercial real estate transaction is a clean, easy, stress-free undertaking has never closed a commercial real estate transaction. Expect the unexpected, and be prepared to deal with it.

Harp Author Photo PID 732110I’ve been closing commercial real estate transactions for over 35 years. I grew up in the commercial real estate business.

My father was a “land guy”. He assembled land, put in infrastructure and sold it for a profit. His mantra: “Buy by the acre, sell by the square foot.”  From an early age, he drilled into my head the need to “be a deal maker; not a deal breaker.” This was always coupled with the admonition: “If the deal doesn’t close, no one is happy.” His theory was that attorneys sometimes “kill tough deals” simply because they don’t want to be blamed if something goes wrong.

A key point to understand is that commercial real estate Closings do not “just happen”; they are made to happen. There is a time-proven method for successfully Closing commercial real estate transactions. That method requires adherence to the four KEYS TO CLOSING outlined below: (more…)

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DUE DILIGENCE CHECKLISTS for Commercial Real Estate Transactions

R. Kymn Harp Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

R. Kymn Harp
Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

 2016 Update:

Are you planning to purchase, finance, develop or redevelop any of the following types of commercial real estate in the USA?

  • Shopping Center
  • Office building
  • Large Multifamily/Apartments/Condominium Project
  • Sports and/or Entertainment Venue
  • Mixed-Use Commercial-Residential-Office
  • Parking Lot/Parking Garage
  • Retail Store
  • Lifestyle or Enclosed Mall
  • Restaurant/Banquet Facility
  • Intermodal logistics/distribution facility
  • Medical Building
  • Gas Station
  • Manufacturing facility
  • Pharmacy
  • Special Use facility
  • Air Rights parcel
  • Subterranean parcel
  • Infrastructure improvements
  • Other commercial (non-single family, non-farm) property

RSP_LogoHD (3)A KEY element of successfully investing in commercial real estate is performing an adequate Due Diligence Investigation prior to becoming legally bound to acquire or finance the property.  Conducting a Due Diligence Investigation is important not just to enable you to walk away from the transaction, if necessary, but even more importantly to enable you to discover obstacles and opportunities presented by the property that can be addressed prior to closing, to enable the transaction to proceed in a manner most beneficial to your overall objective. An adequate Due Diligence Investigation will assure awareness of all material facts relevant to the intended use or disposition of the property after closing. This is a critical point. The ultimate objective is not just to get to Closing – but rather to confirm that the property can be used or developed as intended after Closing.

The following checklists – while not all-inclusive – will help you conduct a focused and meaningful Due Diligence Investigation. (more…)

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COMMERCIAL LANDLORD-TENANT – Part 2 – The Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment

R. Kymn Harp Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

R. Kymn Harp
Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

Catherine Cook Shareholder at Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

Catherine A. Cooke
 Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

This is Part 2 of a multi-part series of articles discussing the duties, rights and remedies of commercial real estate tenants in Illinois. Part 1, entitled “Getting It Right” discussed the importance of clarity in lease drafting, and the potential for unintended leasehold easements for parking, and other uses.

In March 2015, the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education (“IICLE”) published its 2015 Edition practice handbook entitled: Commercial Landlord-Tenant Practice. To provide best-practice guidance to all Illinois attorneys, IICLE recruits experienced attorneys with relevant knowledge to write each handbook chapter. For the 2015 Edition, IICLE asked R. Kymn Harp and Catherine A. Cooke to write the chapter entitled Tenant’s Duties, Rights and Remedies. We were, of course, pleased to oblige. Although each of us represent commercial landlords at least as often as we represent commercial tenants, a clear understanding of the duties, rights and remedies of commercial real estate tenants is critical when representing either side of the commercial lease transaction.

The following is an excerpt (slightly edited) from our chapter in the 2015 Edition. We hope you find this excerpt, and the excerpts that will follow, informative and useful. Feel free to contact IICLE  directly to purchase the entire volume.

The COVENANT OF QUIET ENJOYMENT
What Is It? — General Principles

It has long been the law in Illinois that a covenant of quite enjoyment is implied in all lease agreements. Blue Cross Ass’n v. 666 N. Lake Shore Drive Associates, 100 Ill.App.3d 647, 427 N.E.2d 270, 273, 56 Ill.Dec. 290 (1st Dist. 1981); 64 East Walton, Inc. v. Chicago Title & Trust Co., 69 Ill.App.3d 635, 387 N.E.2d 751, 755, 25 Ill.Dec. 875 (1st Dist. 1979); Berrington v. Casey, 78 Ill. 317, 319 (1875); Wade v. Halligan, 16 Ill. 507, 511 (1855).

A covenant of quiet enjoyment “promises that the tenant shall enjoy the possession of the premises in peace and without disturbance.” [Emphasis in original.] Checkers, Simon & Rosner v. Lurie Co., No. 87 C 5405, 1987 WL 18930 at *3 (N.D.Ill. Oct. 20, 1987). This does not mean, however, that no breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment may be found in a leasehold without a finding that the lessor intended to deprive the lessee of possession. Blue Cross Ass’n, supra, 427 N.E.2d at 27. It simply means that a tenant must actually be in possession of the premises to claim a breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment. If the tenant has already vacated the premises before the disturbance has commenced, no breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment occurs. Checkers, Simon & Rosner, supra, 1987 WL 18930 at *3.

RSP_LogoHD (3)An implied covenant of quiet enjoyment includes, “absent a lease clause to the contrary, the right to be free of the lessors’ intentional interference with full enjoyment and use of the leased premises.” Infinity Broadcasting Corporation of Illinois v. Prudential Insurance Company of America, No. 86 C 4207, 1987 WL 6624 at *5 (N.D.Ill. Feb. 9, 1987), aff’d, 869 F.2d 1073 (7th Cir. 1989), quoting American Dairy Queen Corp. v. Brown-Port Co., 621 F.2d 255, 258 (7th Cir. 1980).

If the landlord breaches the covenant of quiet enjoyment, the lessee may remain in possession and claim damages for breach of lease. In such case, the measure of damages is the difference between the rental value of the premises in light of the breached covenant of quiet enjoyment and the rent that the tenant agreed to pay under the lease, together with such special damages as may have been directly and necessarily incurred by the tenant in consequence of the landlord’s wrongful act. 64 East Walton, supra, 387 N.E.2d at 755.

Although Illinois cases defining the precise scope of a covenant of quiet enjoyment are rare, BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY, pp. 1248 – 1249 (6th ed. 1993) defines “quiet enjoyment” in connection with the landlord-tenant relationship as “the tenant’s right to freedom from serious interferences with his or her tenancy. Manzaro v. McCann, 401 Mass. 880, 519 N.E.2d 1337, 1341. (Ringing for more than one day of smoke alarms in an apartment building could be sufficient interference with the tenants’ quite enjoyment of leased premises to justify relief against the landlord.).”

HOW THE COVENANT OF QUIET ENJOYMENT MAY APPLY— CASE LAW

In Blue Cross Ass’n v. 666 N. Lake Shore Drive Associates, 100 Ill.App.3d 647, 427 N.E.2d 270, 273, 56 Ill.Dec. 290 (1st Dist. 1981), the First District Appellate Court discussed the covenant of quiet enjoyment in the lease as granting the tenant a right of quiet and peaceful possession and enjoyment of the whole premises and equated a breach of quiet enjoyment under a lease to a private nuisance. “A private nuisance in a leasehold situation is ‘an individual wrong arising from an unreasonable, unwarranted or unlawful use of one’s property producing such material annoyance, inconvenience, discomfort, or hurt that the law will presume a consequent damage.’ ” Id., quoting Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. v. LaSalle National Bank, 77 Ill.App.3d 478, 395 N.E.2d 1193, 1198, 32 Ill.Dec. 812 (1st Dist. 1979).

The tenant had entered into a five-year lease on August 22, 1978, with a five-year renewal option, for approximately 53,000 square feet of the (more…)

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POP QUIZ! — Commercial Real Estate Due Diligence

R. Kymn Harp Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

R. Kymn Harp
Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

I read once that if you took all the lawyers in the world and laid them end to end along the equator — it would be a good idea to leave them there.

That’s what I read. What do you suppose that means?

I have written before about the need to exercise due diligence when purchasing commercial real estate. The need to investigate, before Closing, every significant aspect of the property you are acquiring. The importance of evaluating each commercial real estate transaction with a mindset that once the Closing occurs, there is no going back. The Seller has your money and is gone. If post-Closing problems arise, Seller’s contract representations and warranties will, at best, mean expensive litigation. CAVEAT EMPTOR! [“Let the buyer beware!”]

Paying extra attention at the beginning of a commercial real estate transaction to “get it right” can save tens of thousands of dollars versus when a deal goes bad. It’s like the old Fram® oil filter slogan during the 1970’s: “You can pay me now – or pay me later”. In commercial real estate, however, “later” may be too late.

Buying commercial real estate is NOT like buying a home. It is not. It is not. It is NOT.

In Illinois, and many other states, virtually every residential real estate closing requires a lawyer for the buyer and a lawyer for the seller. This is probably smart. It is good consumer protection.

The “problem” this causes, however, is that every lawyer handling residential real estate transactions considers himself or herself a “real estate lawyer”, capable of handling any real estate transaction that may arise.

We learned in law school that there are only two kinds of property: real estate and personal property. Therefore – we intuit – if we are competent to handle a residential real estate closing, we must be competent to handle a commercial real estate closing. They are each “real estate”, right?

ANSWER: Yes, they are each real estate. No, they are not the same.

The legal issues and risks in a commercial real estate transaction are remarkably different from the legal issues and risks in a residential real estate transaction. Most are not even remotely similar. Attorneys concentrating their practice handling residential real estate closings do not face the same issues as attorneys concentrating their practice in commercial real estate.

It is a matter of experience. You either know the issues and risks inherent in commercial real estate transactions – and know how to deal with them – or you don’t.

A key point to remember is that the myriad consumer protection laws that protect residential home buyers have no application to – and provide no protection for – buyers of commercial real estate.

Competent commercial real estate practice requires focused and concentrated investigation of all issues material to the transaction by someone who knows what they are looking for. In short, it requires the experienced exercise of due diligence.

I admit – the exercise of due diligence is not cheap, but the failure to exercise due diligence can create a financial disaster for the commercial real estate investor. Don’t be “penny wise and pound foolish”. If you are buying a home, hire an attorney who regularly represents home buyers. If you are buying commercial real estate, hire an attorney who regularly represents commercial real estate buyers.

Years ago I stopped handling residential real estate transactions. As an active commercial real estate attorney, even I hire residential real estate counsel for my own home purchases. I do that because residential real estate practice is fundamentally different from commercial real estate.

Maybe I do harp on the need for competent counsel experienced in commercial real estate transactions. I genuinely believe it. I believe it is essential. I believe if you are going to invest in commercial real estate, you must apply your critical thinking skills and be smart.

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POP QUIZ:

Here’s a simple test of YOUR critical thinking skills:

Please read the following Scenarios and answer the questions TRUE or FALSE: (more…)

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STRATEGIES FOR ASSESSING COMMERCIAL TENANT CREDIT

David Resnick, Attorney Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

David Resnick, Attorney
Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

GUEST BLOG BY DAVID RESNICK of ROBBINS, SALOMON & PATT, LTD.

When considering a lease, tenants are usually focused on the location, size and quality of the leased space, and perform some minimal diligence on the landlord and property manager to ensure fair treatment over the course of the term. Landlords have a more difficult task,however. A prospective tenant, and most importantly, that tenant’s ability to pay rent, is often unknown to the landlord. In recent years, real estate professionals have witnessed expansion in the array of users of commercial space and at the same time, property owners have been compelled to seek out new types of tenants. Increasing numbers of start-ups and new ventures are seeking to lease space, many of which are backed by various types of equity financing. As a result of these changes, landlords should be particularly vigilant in understanding how their tenants make money, as well as the financial identities of the parties backstopping the obligations of those tenants.

Analyze Tenant Credit

Landlords should always analyze tenant credit in the context of the lease. After all, the success of leased real estate, as well as the property owner’s ability to borrow against that asset, is dependent upon the stability of its tenants. While rent is the primary economic factor in any lease transaction, other factors such as term (including rights of extension), area of the premises (including rights of expansion and rights of first refusal on additional space) and the scope of tenant improvements create the platform upon which a tenant’s credit can be evaluated. For example, substantial build-out (regardless of who pays for it) that may inhibit the re-letting the space following a default. Therefore, landlords should be mindful of the tenant’s capacity to pay its construction obligations, which capacity is usually encapsulated in the tenant’s credit and litigation history.

A proper underwriting of a tenant’s credit requires a thorough understanding of that tenant’s business. A prudent landlord will pay attention not only to the tenant’s sources of revenue, but to the market upon which the tenant relies and the business plan upon which the tenant charts its future success. What are the contours of the business model? Is the revenue sustainable? What is the plan for future growth? Has the tenant gone through restructuring or been forced to lay off personnel? Landlords can avoid doing business with troubled or unstable tenants by performing background, lien and litigation searches on the tenant parties as part of the underwriting process. This kind of diligence can usually be completed in a short time-frame at a reasonable cost, and may save substantial time and money if the landlord is forced to evict a tenant it should have known to be at increased risk of default.

Technology has given rise to new products which enhance the process of underwriting tenant credit. For example, the Chicago firm (RE)Meter has created the first “credit score” for commercial tenants, which captures and synthesizes proposed lease transaction terms and basic tenant financial information with exclusive data maintained by a number of federal agencies, including the U.S. Census Bureau, the Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service ((RE)Meter is the first firm to access IRS information in this context). The end product, called the TIL Report, can be completed in a mere 15 minutes and offers landlords a sector- and market-specific analysis of its prospective tenants, reflecting a number of detailed metrics including growth trends, profitability and rent per employee. Innovations like these have altered the landscape of tenant underwriting and will enable landlords to make more prudent decisions when marketing space and assessing the risk of potential tenants.

Tenant Credit Enhancements

Conventionally, several mechanisms exist to enhance the credit of a prospective tenant who fails on its own to meet the underwriting criteria of the landlord. The first and foremost of these is the security deposit, which is posted by the tenant in the form of cash or letter of credit and held by the landlord for all or part of the duration of the lease. The deposit may be applied by the landlord towards unpaid amounts payable under the lease like rent, proportionate common area expenses or taxes, or reimbursement of amounts expended to repair damage to the premises. A stronger credit tenant may receive the benefit of a return of all or part of the deposit held by landlord over time, provided the tenant has not defaulted.

Security Deposits

While cash security deposits have historically been the industry standard in commercial leasing, landlords are increasingly requiring letter of credit security deposits instead. For many landlords, the benefits of cash on hand are overshadowed by the security of an obligation issued by a third-party bank, particularly when the landlord is able to draw on the letter of credit following a default without notice to or consent by the tenant. Letters of credit also may bear advantages to the landlord following a bankruptcy by the tenant, as the obligation of the issuing bank to pay on the letter of credit is independent of the tenant’s obligations under the lease. However, some courts have found that letter of credit security deposits are part of the tenant’s bankruptcy estate and thus subject to the cap on a landlord’s claim for damages under Section 502(b)(6) of the United States Bankruptcy Code.

Lease Guaranties

Guaranties are a common alternative for securing the credit of a commercial tenant. In the context of commercial leasing, a guaranty is a legally enforceable undertaking by a third party to fulfill the payment or performance obligations of the tenant under a lease. A guaranty may be given by an entity, such as a corporate parent or affiliate, or an individual, such as a majority owner or other key principal of the tenant. To most effectively backstop the credit of the tenant, a guaranty should be a guaranty of payment as opposed to a guaranty of performance. This distinction ensures that the landlord will not be forced to exhaust its remedies against the tenant before pursuing enforcement of the guaranty. Rather, the landlord may pursue the tenant and guarantor simultaneously for unpaid amounts under the lease.

Once a landlord has determined that it will require a guaranty to secure the tenant’s obligations under the lease, what should the landlord look for in evaluating potential guarantors? The most straightforward factor, notwithstanding whether the proposed guarantor is an individual or an entity, is cash on hand and other liquid assets. In satisfaction of the landlord’s inquiry, an guarantors may produce income tax returns, bank statements, financial statements, balance sheets or other evidence of personal holdings. The review process for publicly traded companies is simplified in that pertinent financial information is publicly available. Of course, testing for liquidity has its flaws. There exists no iron-clad protection against fraud, and disclosures only present a snapshot of a party’s credit at the time of the test as opposed to a forecast of future liquidity and stability. A review of tenant and guarantor financial information, as well as credit reports for collections, pledging of material assets or opening of new lines of credit, should be performed at regular intervals throughout the term of the lease.

Financial Disclosure Challenges

Financial disclosures may be problematic or some privately-held concerns. Particularly in the modern era of start-up firms financed by venture capital and private equity interests, tenants and proposed guarantors may be limited by investor confidentiality. With this in mind, parties to a lease should clarify in the lease or guaranty the form of any future disclosures to be made. Tenants and guarantors may resist delivering full-fledged audited financial statements in favor of reduced balance sheets or nominal form of profit and loss statement. Depending on the profile of the market and building, landlords may be willing to accept less than full disclosure if the statements deliver a reasonable picture of the financial health of the party delivering them.

Tenant Stability and Performance Incentives

As lease term and the disclosure provisions are negotiated, tenants may push the landlord for a variety of concessions that effectively incentivize and reward tenant stability. Perhaps the most common examples of this request are limitations on the security deposit, pledged assets or the liability under or the term of the guaranty. Limitations like these can take a variety of forms, from a fixed term to a cap on the guarantor’s liability based upon a fixed dollar-figure or factor of rent payable under the lease, to an automatic reduction of either the security deposit or the cap on the guarantor’s liability over time. In each instance, the landlord should be cognizant of the hurdles the tenant party must overcome to receive the benefit of these limitations, none more important than the uninterrupted timely payment of rent without default.

Tenant Credit is a Key to Successful Lease Performance

In light of the crises our industry has withstood in recent years, a landlord’s exuberance in welcoming new tenants is understandable. But in the current era of increasing economic growth, landlords should adopt a cautious approach in understanding and monitoring the business of their tenants. No landlord can predict with certainty the success or failure of its tenants; however, perhaps now more than ever, a thorough and complete examination of tenant credit is essential to the financial success of any leased real estate.

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Value Investing vs. Momentum Investing

As the commercial real estate market begins to pick up steam, beware the urge to follow a “momentum” investment strategy rather that a “value” investment strategy.

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-skeleton-keys-image28661257Momentum investing relies on market increases to generate a return on investment. It is the “rising tide floats all boats” investment model. It is the investment model of which all “bubbles” are made.

As momentum investing accelerates, investment fundamentals tend to get lost. Instead of evaluating cash on cash returns using discounted cash flows that underlie “value” investing, a casino mentality takes hold – whereby investors can justify acquiring assets generating even a negative cash return, with the notion that rising prices will yield a profit. As the saying goes: “Any fool can make a profit in a rising market – and many fools do”. The challenge, of course, comes when a market hits a plateau or, worse yet, the market declines.

As a general proposition, value investing is significantly more prudent. If a project is cash flowing, and generating a positive return on investment, today and for the foreseeable future – which is a fundamental precept of a value investment strategy – the potential added return of any increase in value in the underlying asset caused by the “rising tide” effect is icing on the cake. Choose your cake with care.

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. But, employing an “exception” is wisely done only after sober reflection of the particular circumstance to determine that in that particular case the exception is warranted. When an exception is regularly employed, it is no longer an exception – but, rather, becomes the rule itself.

As in all markets, there will be winners and there will be losers. It makes sense in the coming commercial real estate revival to position yourself and your company as a winner. You may not get another chance.

Exercise all appropriate due diligence. Use readily available and appropriate asset protection strategies. Invest with intentional regard to reliably building wealth though a well conceived value investing strategy – not a roulette table strategy that, over time, is virtually certain to fail.

If this recent economic debacle has taught us anything, it has taught that bad things can happen to good people who lose sight of the fundamentals. Good deals – even great deals – can be made if reliable commercial real estate investment fundamentals are employed.

As a wise mentor once told me: “You have a good brain – use it.”

Good luck.

R. Kymn Harp
Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.
Chicago, IL
www.rsplaw.com
JOIN MY THOUGHTBOARD: www.Harp-OnThis.com

REPORTING FROM THE FIELD. . .

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